What Is The Rule For Importing Cars?

If you’re a car enthusiast and love foreign makes and models, it’s very likely that you’ve thought about importing a car to the U.S. But like many other car lovers, you may decide to stay away from importing your dream into the United States when you learn about the complicated rules and regulations.

If you’re a car enthusiast and love foreign makes and models, it’s very likely that you’ve thought about importing a car to the U.S. But like many other car lovers, you may decide to stay away from importing your dream into the United States when you learn about the complicated rules and regulations. We know that auto-import to Canada or the United States is not an easy process, but it’s definitely worth it if you’ll finally get your hands on the car of your dreams.

Importing Cars to the USA Properly

This short guide will help you understand the rules you need to know before you decide to import a car on your own. You can also seek assistance from car importers who know these rules best. There are mainly four rules governing the import process, and each applies to specific types of cars:

1. Achieve US Car Import Laws Compliance

Importing foreign-made motor vehicles is very strictly regulated in the United States. The Department of Transportation (DOT) requires that all cars meet its safety standards, and a sticker is affixed to the bumper, denoting compliance.

Vehicles imported from other countries must comply with the following laws and regulations. In the event that any foreign motor vehicle does not meet these standards, it will either be exported or destroyed:

  • Motor Vehicle Information and Cost Savings Act (1972)
  • Motor Vehicle Safety Act (1966)
  • Importing Vehicle Safety Compliance Act (1988)
  • Clean Air Act (1990)

Sometimes the simplest way to legally import a vehicle into the United States is to bring it into compliance with U.S. rules and regulations. You can quickly obtain customs clearance approval by finding licensed auto importers who can assist you.

Importing Cars to the USA

2. Substantially Similar Clause

If the imported car is very similar to another model manufactured in the US, you can use the Substantially Similar Clause. Generally, this clause is used when importing cars from Canada. It’s because American and Canadian cars usually have interchangeable parts. If agents at customs agree that your vehicle is similar to American models, it is approved for import.

Sadly, many car enthusiasts are left out of the “substantially similar” clause. It is because, while Canadian cars generally conform to U.S. laws, vehicles from other markets are not necessarily the same.

3. Show and Display Rule

The Show and Display Rule were initially passed in 1999. It states that privately imported vehicles are exempt from import restrictions under certain conditions. The most important of these conditions is that the car must have “technological or historical significance.”

It only applies to vehicles that don’t meet the regular United States guidelines – Vehicles that didn’t pass U.S. safety standards and therefore weren’t sold new in the U.S. Known as Grey Market Vehicles; they can only be driven on US roads after meeting strict requirements.

All applications are processed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and they have the final say on which cars can be imported and which not. Importing a vehicle can be a time-consuming and expensive process – and if you want to utilize this rule, things can get even more complicated. That’s why the list of eligible cars is mostly limited to exquisite, expensive sports cars. It is also difficult to add a new vehicle to this list. The following are a few examples of cars that pass this rule:

  • Porsche 911 GT3 RS
  • BMW M3 CRT
  • Ferrari Enzo #400
  • Mercedes-Benz McLaren SLR 722S
  • Aston Martin Lagonda Taraf

Even if your dream car qualifies for the Show and Display Rule, you can only drive it on public roads up to 2,500 miles per year. In some cases, the NTHSA will approve the importation but not register the car.

car importers

Requirements for the Show and Display Rule

Once a vehicle of a particular production year, make, and model is approved for import, the same vehicle does not need to be reapplied for. This is why the NHTSA keeps a running list of cars already approved and disapproved for import. US car importers know the approved cars well, so they can easily find the right car for you. The NHTSA may inspect a vehicle annually to verify that its mileage does not go beyond the stated limit of 2,500 miles per year. Also, approval for importation does not guarantee approval for licensing and registration.

General Qualifications

Show and Display Rule apply to a car if:

  • It was manufactured less than 25 years ago
  • It is no longer being produced
  • It is not a replica or a kit car
  • It has documented technological or historical significance
  • Only a limited number of these products were produced (typically 500 units)
  • The specific model was never sold new in the United States

Major Restrictions

There are several limitations:

  • The car is not currently produced in any country
  • NHTSA must give written consent before the vehicle can be sold 
  • The car can be driven no more than 2,500 miles per year – and only inside the US

There are several loopholes in the NHTSA regulations that they can use if they are concerned about public safety. They can, for example, approve the vehicle based on the guidelines but don’t let it be registered.

4. 25-Year-Old Import Rule

This rule will probably be why you choose auto importers to do the job. First, know that although the 25-year rule is federal, different states might have their own laws that you’ll need to follow. For example, if you want to import a car to California, you must comply with additional regulations that apply to vehicles manufactured after 1975. Check your state’s regulations before you import your chosen car — or contact one of the licensed car importers in your state for more information.

Second, you should also follow EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) compliance exemptions, but this does not apply to all kinds of vehicles. There are specific EPA regulations for different cars and motorcycles. If your dream car was manufactured more than 21 years ago but has an EPA-compliant engine, then you’re one step ahead.

Is the car 25 years old?

You’ll need to prove the year this specific car was manufactured if you want it to be exempt from Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations using the 25-year rule. Knowing the model’s release year isn’t enough; you’ll need to prove when the car itself was made. We suggest leaving this part to experienced auto importers, but here are a few ways to do it:rules for importing cars

  • A dated label on the vehicle from the original producer
  • An invoice from the first time it was sold 
  • A copy of the car registration 25 years or older
  • A statement identifying the vehicle’s age from a recognized historical society

Even when the import process is done, there are still things to consider; you’ll need vehicle transport services, paperwork for registration, and there is always insurance. The best thing you can do is leave this complicated process to the professionals. We are one of the licensed car importers located in Blaine, WA, specializing in importing cars to Canada and the US. Call us now and get your dream car!

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How Much Does a Car Import Cost?

Even though there are so many kinds of cars readily available in the U.S., there are many reasons you would want to import one. If you are moving to the U.S. from a foreign country, you may want to keep your own car.

Even though there are so many kinds of cars readily available in the U.S., there are many reasons you would want to import one. If you are moving to the U.S. from a foreign country, you may want to keep your own car. Another reason is that you can find many affordable used cars in good condition in other countries that you’d have to pay much more for them in the U.S. Finally, there are car enthusiasts who might have their eyes set on a car that isn’t available in the U.S.

But when you find the car of your dreams, there’ll be one big problem – it’s on the other side of the world. And the process of importing a car is something many people wouldn’t want to get into. It’s complex, paperwork-filled, and expensive. So you better consider getting help from one of the many vehicle transport services across the U.S.

Cost To Import A Car

Auto import to Canada or U.S usually costs between $2,500 and $5,000. And that’s on top of the car price! Factors like the make, model, year, law of the country the car are coming from and the country it is arriving in are these influential factors.

By reading this article, you will know the costs and complications of importing a car. It also helps you to decide whether you should handle the process by yourself or use one of the registered car importers.

We will now go through the process and break down the different steps of importing a car in detail and all the fees associated with each step:

Shipping cost

Importing a car from Europe to North America should only cost you around $1,000 – $1,500. But the maximum amount could go up to about $5,000, depending on the shipping method used. There are three main options for shipping: using a shared container, a private container, or a roll-on/roll-off service. Roll-on/roll-off is the least expensive shipping method, with nearly half the price of containers, but cars are more easily damaged in the process.

A car importer checking vehicle before export/ import in & near Blaine and Vancouver

Shared containers are more expensive than roll-on/roll-off containers. However, they’re not too costly as multiple cars can be transported in a single container, and the fees are split among all car owners.

A private container has the high-level security of a fully enclosed container with no waiting time for other cars. It’s the most expensive and the fastest option,  most suitable for classic cars.

Duty fees for importing vehicles

Whether new or used, vehicles made abroad are usually subject to duty when imported into the U.S. You can expect to pay 2.5% for a car, 25% for a truck, and 2.4% for a motorcycle. The duty is based on the price you paid for the vehicle.

Additional Costs:

The good thing about working with car importers is that you won’t be surprised by unexpected fees. However, if you’re trying the process on your own, here are some extra costs to consider:

International bank fees

Using an international bank account to make payments for vehicles may involve additional bank fees. Domestic wire transfers can cost around $20 to $30, but international wire transfers can cost more than $50. Also, smaller international banks tend to reroute funds through a number of banks, resulting in more fees.

Ground transport

Obviously, you want to keep your dream car in the same condition as when you purchased it. Most cars can be transported on an open auto carrier with no problem, but classic cars should be transported with enclosed carriers. This will protect your beloved car from bad weather, road conditions, rock chips, and in the unlikely case that it is parked underneath another car, which could leak oil, coolant, or other harmful fluids. An enclosed transport usually costs 1.5 to 2 times more than an open carrier.

Inspection Fees

The last thing anyone wants is to have their container pulled for a random inspection by Customs, but it can happen. If customs pulls the container for inspection, you as the shipper are responsible for paying all inspection fees.

How much does a car import cost?

A Customs inspection can cost anywhere between $1,000 and $2,000, and even if your container passes inspection, you still have to pay all fees. However, random customs inspections are rare. Less than 10% of containers are ever pulled for a random inspection. But if your car does not pass, it will be exported, and that’s another reason you should work with trusted car importers.

Marine insurance

Shipping overseas is considered to be a safe and reliable method for transporting goods, but you wouldn’t want to be stuck with the bill if your container falls overboard. The insurance usually costs around 2% of the car value, so it would be less than 600$ for a 30,000$ car.

Other things to consider

In case you decide to do it yourself, there are many things to consider since the process involves many parties and can be complex:

Documentation needed:

First, you need to start with documentation.

  • Customs will require the following documents when you import a vehicle into the U.S.: Shipping Documentation, which includes the Shipping Original Bill of Lading and the Vehicle License Documentation. 
  • Passport/VISA (always keep a copy in case they need it)
  • EPA Form 3520-1 (the United States Environmental Protection Agency Website)
  • DOT Form HS-7 (PDF) 

When it comes to importing your car, understanding the laws based on whether it is under 25 years old or over 25 years old can greatly affect the process and costs. So you need to that:

If your vehicle is under 25 years old:

Then there will be additional documentation, and the process will be much more difficult and more expensive than if it was an older model. The vehicle must conform to the U.S. Safety and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) emission standards. If it doesn’t meet the requirement, you’ll need to contact one of the registered auto importers to make the necessary modifications. 

If your vehicle is Over 25 Years Old

If your car is more than 25 years old, you can import it into the U.S. regardless of whether it conforms to U.S. safety and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) emission standards or not.

Make Your Prior Arrangements:

If auto importers do not do the importing process, you, as the purchaser and importer, are responsible for making prior arrangements with your shipping carrier. Some say it is best to have a trusted connection in the exporting country, as sending money to people on the other side of the world can be stressful. But we believe that it is best to hire one of the registered U.S. car importers to assist you in handling the car entry.


Paperwork is probably the biggest concern you’ll have during this process. A step that doesn’t get a lot of attention but is one of the most challenging in the importation process. Auto importers can assist you with this complex and high quantity of paperwork that is not easily handled by an ordinary person unfamiliar with government processes.


This will be one of the last steps and is another important part of the process that you can work out with a car importer. Once customs has cleared your car and you have passed emissions testing and paid taxes, you will need to present your registration again.

How Can Car Importers Help You?

While all of this may appear to be relatively straightforward to some, it’s actually expensive and can be highly stressful. The process of finding a car from a reputable dealer and making sure that all the ducks are in a row before you get the car is no easy task. Remember you’re purchasing a 25-year-old, multi-thousand-dollar piece of equipment from a stranger. You don’t even know if the car runs before you get it!car importer

So if you feel the process is overwhelming, you’ll be happy to know that we are one of the trusted U.S. car importers, based in Blaine, WA. We will gladly handle all of these problems for you. We’ll find you a good car, manage all foreign affairs, and deal with CBP and shipping on your behalf. This is probably the most realistic path for most people who want to import a car.

Want to know how much it would cost to import your dream to U.S. or Canada? Contact us and get a free quote today.

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